LSFF REVIEW: 'Up To And Including Her Limits' Challenges Feminine Identity

As part of London Short Film Festival, the ‘Up To And Including Her Limits’ strand included six short films united by the centralisation of women and control. Negotiating power in relationships and challenging the expected imagery of femininity, these shorts exhibit facets and nuances of identity as a woman.

ENTROPIA

Directed by Flóra Anna Buda.

Immediately, the pastel world of Flóra Anna Buda’s short film is intriguing. A woman lying in a body of water welcomes viewers into this uniquely stylised animation where the parallel lives of three women are united by a universe that is void of bras. 

Lucid imagery identifies this short as a visually fascinating film. Naked bodies harbour an animatedly modern style of abstract line drawings that lacks any immense detail. This perfectly fits the subject of Entropia with its rejection of a male gaze upon these women. 

One woman spots a doe drinking from the lake. Staying low as she prowls closer to the doe, her sharp teeth bared, ready to attack. A wild form of femininity inhabits her body in this animalistic portrayal. Another woman is shopping for groceries with maggot-related products lining the shelves, repeatedly confronted with bugs that terrify her. The third woman is in an empty room with a treadmill that barrages her with overwhelming senses, demanding for her to run as images are projected on the walls that surround her.

Offering a meditative exploration of the opposing factors of one personality, this braless, queer possibility asks whether every facet of ourselves has the possibility to be loved. One woman may be repulsed by the other but they can learn to exist in harmony. In turn, if these women represent different parts of one whole, Entropia displays it is possible to love ourselves regardless of differing attitudes. Although individualism of women is powerful, it appears even more productive and empowering when they come together in a dazzling visual experience of multi-coloured patterns that spans all three women. This explosion of possibility leaves the women in a vibrant space of opportunity, where they are an extension of each other and their universe.

GUSH

Directed by Hannah Perry.

Gush is a film about mourning, self-reflection and how skewed the world looks through a 360° camera. Hannah Perry introduces her situation on an extremely personal level, the death of her friend and collaborator, Pete Morrow, is the crux of the film’s movement.

Mental health is discussed through a monologue that resembles spoken word and poetry which debates and investigates the topic. At points, it is difficult to be engaged with, and to follow, the changing on-screen faces, voices and text. Part of this seems to be down to how intensely personal the film is. Mentions of mental health, OCD, and suicide are repeatedly featured, the process of mourning revealing itself as a messy, complicated and contradictory experience. At some points stark, at others abstract, Gush flips between these subjective experiences of grief.

After researching post-film I found Gush was originally designed for exhibition spaces with a curved screen, using the viewer’s peripheral vision to immerse them into this experience. On a standard cinema screen, the purpose of the camera techniques seems lost. It would be evidently more powerful viewed in its desired exhibition space as a performance piece.

CHUBBY

Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli.

Facing trauma is the central topic of Chubby’s dealings with youth. A ten-year-old girl is playing a game of higher or lower which becomes uncomfortable quickly as the dares get progressively worse. With a man twice her age, gaslighting and victim-blaming appear painfully present. 

Coping with the trauma is something this young woman cannot articulate, instead it reveals itself in her rebellious acts, for which she is then blamed. This narrative of responsibility and control reveals the brutality of childhood manipulation which is at the forefront of Chubby as she is robbed of the comfort and safety of blanketed youth.

Maya Harman plays this young woman with strong dedication. Flipping between feigned adult confidence and a childish innocence that is being corrupted, she gives it her all in this film. Throwing herself into this role which requires her to intensely spit out expletives with an unforgiving rage before contrasting scenes where she is silenced by fear, curling into the corner of the frame to try and disappear from the moment she is living. The range from this actor is impressive as she tackles both a childish naivety and lack of control over consent.

The choice of selective hearing also plays an important part in the film, controlled by her gaze, the source of her attention is drawn to the kitchen over the chattering voices around her. She overhears discussions about misremembering events, a link to a topic that is so often maliciously introduced in the discussion of sexual abuse. These moments are intimately shot with close-ups that frame her lips, eyes, fingers tightly, making the smallest of gestures an intense movement. 

Almost suffocatingly close, cinematographer Adam Crosby allows Chubby to be briefly visually soothing with unfocused fairy lights in moments between the narrative’s traumatic occurring events.

MY CRAZY BOXERS

Directed by Krissy Mahan.

To start, I will refer to how My Crazy Boxers ends. In the credits, the featured text states: “Mental health is a queer issue.” A statement that comes to define the nature of this short film, based on director Krissy Mahan’s real experience with the psychiatric hospital system.

All that hits the viewing senses is a pixelated screen with subtitles and the voices of Kristine and her psychologist. The latter is incredibly pushy with her questioning and unresponsive to Kristine’s answers. Instead, keeping a determined focus on asking Kristine about her choice of underwear type. The fact she insists on wearing boxers is a pressing issue repeatedly questioned even after Kristine declares “I hate this.” In dialogue with gender identification, the choices Kristine has made are put under intense and repetitive scrutiny.

My Crazy Boxers relies on audio for the entirety of the film’s narrative. The conversation between these two individuals is extensive while specific about the situation that is not visible. Although there is an artistic notion of the pixelation expressing a censoring that weaves into this narrative, it would have been interesting to see how the use of visual pairing could have been further developed.

THE LOST SOUND

Directed by Steffie Yee.

The shortest film of the collection, The Lost Sound treasures every second of its two minute run time. Steffie Yee was inspired by Hiromi Itō’s poem ‘On Ç’ in the exploration of depleting language. The inheritance of language is an aspect of communication that does not seem particularly engaging, yet, Yee’s film calls attention to the evolution of semantics with the specific sounds, pronunciations, and meanings that will soon be extinct from lack of use.

The language of mourning translates in these moments, growing nostalgic for phrasing and sound she wishes to continue to hear.  Yee displays how sound is inherited through women in the family, who offer a tutorial on how to make the specific sound.

It is an original approach to exploring how audio can be made visual, with the hand-drawn animation being a personal touch that grounds this film in an individualist context. The Lost Sound performs the story of the extinction of language in a tactile, personal sense.

ALL CATS ARE GREY IN THE DARK

Directed by Lasse Linder.

Lasse Linder comes to the topic of femininity in a very different way than the rest of the shorts in the ‘Up To And Including Her Limits’ strand. The main reason being its exploration of motherhood is centralised through a cat named Marmelade.

Christian lives alone with his two pride and joys: Marmelade and Katjuscha, two cats who are impeccably groomed. He takes them on outings to the pet store, they eat from the dining table, and in their biggest journey: Christian journeys on a ferry and car journey with both cats in order to have Marmelade impregnated.

Witnessing motherhood from Christian’s perspective, the expectations of what it is to be a mother are shaped by his input. Creating a nursery and being constantly present, active, and attentive, Christian’s thoughts of pregnancy become heightened and it is through his tender approach and obsessively watchful eye that Marmelade undergoes pregnancy. Although comedic moments are often visual, there are sweet moments of genuine softness in All Cats Are Grey In The Dark that ties the short together as an obscure reflection of femininity radiating care.